How details bring stories to life

To bring your stories to life, people need to visualise what you are saying. Back in 2006, my first book, Last Seen in Lhasa, was published. I’d never done any radio interviews before and my publicist sent me a scary publicity schedule. When I went to the ABC offices to give my first interview, my stomach was churning.

I remember fidgeting as I sat in the hot booth waiting for the one-hour live-to-air interview to start. On the line came the gravelly voice of Richard Fidler. He asked if I was ready. Then he said, ‘Remember to answer my questions with word-pictures’.

I’d never heard that phrase before but that piece of advice not only helped me get through the interview, it has stayed with me ever since. Instead of talking with facts, I said things like, ‘As I froze in my gumboots, the Chinese army came swarming over the mountain top.’ The hour flew by and I got great feedback from listeners.

This is just one of several techniques you can use to make your stories more compelling — both in the written format and orally. In a business setting, you don’t need too much ‘colour’, but just a few telling details make all the difference.

5 details to include to make people listen to your stories

1. The name of the person you are referring to. Names are important as we connect with individuals not faceless case studies.

2. Emotions. How did you feel at the moment when your colleague praised you for the report you’d done? How did you feel as you walked out of the lift for your first meeting with your boss? Here, we don’t need a blow-by-blow of every emotion you experienced, but the strongest feeling.

3. Concrete facts. When did the conference take place? Where? Facts help anchor a story. They make it real and tangible. Was it snowing or balmy? Was it on the edge of the city or in the heart of the CBD?

4. The senses. Touch, taste, sound, smell, sight — these connect us to the world, to other people, to experiences. When you evoke one of the senses, it allows the person listening or reading your story to experience it themselves. Again, you don’t need too much, just a sprinkle in the story. Focus on one sense.

5. Chronology. If you are describing a complex series of events a couple of key dates help give the story a timeline. This makes it easier for the listener to make sense of how the events unfolded. It is another way of anchoring us to the crucial moments in your story.

If you want to know other ways to punch up your writing, I’ve done an interview with corporate writer and business book mentor, Steven Lewis from Taleist (below). Like me, Steven has a journalist background, and is an expert in using stories to get his message across.

In the interview I talk more about word pictures. So when you’re thinking of describing someone, perhaps, don’t just have, ‘He walked into the room’ instead have ‘he strode in the room.’ This immediately gives a sense of purpose.

I also discuss how important verbs are to make your stories stronger and how it’s okay to write more than one draft.

So, how do you make your stories more compelling?